Reviews
Vessel


New York Times, Weekend: Fine Arts/Leisure, Art Review
Friday, December 13, 2002
By Roberta Smith

Vessel

Somehow there is nothing like a well made, respectfully used pot. The latest reminder is a handsome exhibition of ceremonial vessels made in the 19th and 20th centuries by the Zulu and other peoples of South Africa. Black or deep red, these large unglazed vessels have beautifully modulated surfaces and shapes whose spherical proportions seem surprisingly weightless.

Burnished in veneration, they were used for the ritualized brewing and consumption of sorghum beer, usually to honor ancestors governing fertility. Their decorations obliquely evoke cycles of hu-man and animal life. Some vessels are decorated with delicate raised patterns intended to resemble female scarring and thus women's bodies. In others the surface is scratched with white lines, creating the effect of a drawing, and bold interlocking shapes that symbolize cattle and are similar to the pat-terns sometimes found on Hopi and Navajo pottery.

The show also includes contemporary ceramic vessels by Nesta Nala, Ntombe Nala and Clive Sithole. Nesta Nala's works in particular maintain the traditional forms at close to original strength. The show provides another important glimpse of the tip of the iceberg that is African ceramics past and present.